If you both want a divorce and can agree to a settlement agreement that the courts will accept, then the easiest and cheapest way is to file jointly. One lawyer can prepare the documents for both of you, either party can have another attorney review the documents, and you can be divorced in sort order. The attorney can also help you negotiate the terms of the agreement.
If you can’t agree (and your question on temporary orders seems to indicate that you can’t), then one of you should file for a contested divorce. You can still settle at any time, but you have taken a path that can be much more expensive, time consuming and acrimonious. If your wife has filed you will soon receive a summons that should be answered, you should also file for temporary orders on those major issued that need to be addressed during the pendancy of the divorce (6-14 months typically), review your discovery needs (interrogatories, 401, 401, request for documents, subpoenas, depositions, etc.), and prepare for a pre-trial conference (memo, four-way meeting, witnesses, exhibits, etc). The pre-trial conference is usually where you can tell if the divorce will have a negotiated settlement or will proceed to trial. If you go to trial be prepared for lengthy preparation process that culminates in placing the settlement of you divorce into the hands of a third party and perhaps waiting several months for a judgment.
Can you tell that I recommend negotiating a settlement agreement – either with the assistance of an attorney of mediator?
This is not legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should speak to an attorney for further information.
Assuming your wife has already filed the papers, once you are served with the papers you should bring them to a family law or divorce attorney. If you need a recommendation for an attorney you should try to contact a local bar association or the Massachusetts Bar Association and they should be able to refer you to an attorney who can help you. You can also search for family law or divorce practitioners here on avvo.com. Once served with the papers, your first step will be to file an Answer to the Complaint and possibly a Counterclaim. If she does not serve you with a Motion for Temporary Orders you may want to draft one to file and serve on your wife (speak about this with your attorney). I highly recommend speaking with an attorney about all of this so that they can take the proper steps to protect your best interest.
Even if you have little money to spend on an attorney, you may be able to find a limited assistance representation attorney to help you. Limited Assistance Representation allows for an attorney to represent you for some parts of you divorce (such as drafting an answer to the complaint for you, or drafting and arguing your motion for temporary orders), but that attorney's representation of you is limited to that specific task, which will be fully set forth in a fee agreement. Once that task is completed the attorney no longer represents you, unless you come to a new agreement on some other task for the attorney to complete for you. It allows you to have an attorney when you think you need an attorney, which may can result in savings.
Although Limited Assistance Representation may be a financially smart choice for you, keep in mind that having an attorney represent you in all of the matters related to your divorce is always the best option.
Best of luck,
If you conduct an Internet search you will find attorneys who specialize in that kind of representation. Strongly consider that.
For basics, you could look at a site like http://www.masslegalhelp.org/children-and-families/divorce-separation-basic-info. In addition, the courts might have some information available for you. There are also several court libraries that might be of interest to you:http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/
But before you dismiss the idea of retaining an attorney, weigh the potential downside to doing something incorrectly.
Best of luck.
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